It is refreshing and unique while at the same time a glowing example of tradition done right.
The Rusty Dog Irish Pub in Huntington is all about canines with photos and paintings everywhere and even dishes named after them. But enjoying an Italian Greyhound burger at the Rusty Dog is just part of the whimsical charm, which is not how I imagine it would feel at, say, an Asian restaurant.
And there is no end to the charm of this brilliant pub in the historic Milligan building. The structure dates to 1883 and the antiques that fill it create a stunning atmosphere.
The family room, which is separate with a different entrance, is the jewel. It has a high tin-covered ceiling, a display of pewter plates and utensils, a fireplace and it is dedicated to Huntington attorney Lambdin P. Milligan, the building’s original owner who also was convicted and sentenced to death but later set free for Civil War crimes.
The Rusty Dog also features all of the elixirs one would expect from a good Irish pub: Irish whiskeys, single-malt scotches and a bevy of draft beers – Guinness and Murphy’s Irish Stout and Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale, to name a few.
The whiskey-blended dessert drinks were the best after-dinner options, bettering the assortment of mini-tortes, cheesecakes and bread pudding, which were still enjoyable. My favorite was the Rusty Dog cocktail: Irish whiskey and Irish cream liqueur shaken with cream and served over ice.
The Rusty Dog backed up its proper pub beverages with equally authentic food.
And it doesn’t get any more Irish than shepherd’s pie. Rusty Dog owner Lee Bowers calls his version more of a cottage pie because it is made with tender, stringy pieces of beef roast instead of lamb. The meat is incorporated with cubed carrots, peas and pearl onions in rich dark gravy with a touch of Guinness. It was topped with a thick layer of dense mashed potatoes and melted cheddar. And it was one of the best shepherd’s pies I have had.
There was more than a hint of Guinness in the Guinness-cheddar soup. The thick, blended soup had bits of potato and bacon, and was rich and delicious.
But the best soup wasn’t Irish at all, it was Italian. The minestrone soup du jour was highlighted by its zesty ground sausage, but also had alphabet pasta, kidney beans, carrot, potato, peas, red pepper, navy beans and green beans.
The pub salad was also very Italian and very good with fresh, green romaine, roasted red peppers, green onion, shredded mozzarella and croutons dressed with a lively red wine vinaigrette. I liked it better than the highly recommended bacon slaw, which had a rather bland dressing.
The Bluetick burger from the Rusty Dog’s sandwich menu, which features eight different breeds that can be made with either a half-pound of ground chuck, a 6-ounce grilled chicken breast, a 6-ounce, grilled or breaded pork tenderloin or a portabella mushroom cap, was a decent choice. The burger was juicy and flavorful, arrived on a nicely toasted bun and had just enough cheese to counteract the thick, salty bacon.
But the best burger was like none I have tried before. The Oscar Wilde Duck Burger was made with 6 ounces of Maple Leaf Farms duck pressed into a burger and seared. It was served open-faced atop a thick slice of grilled white bread that soaked up all of its fatty goodness and topped with a sweet, insanely tasty pile of orange-balsamic caramelized onions.
The New York strip was a steakhouse-worthy option. It was a big, thick slab of beef that was perfectly cooked and surprisingly tender with a nice fatty edge.
The Rusty Dog Nachos were my favorite appetizer that also had an Irish spin with thick slices of fried potato serving as the chips. They were buried under melted cheddar, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapenos and black olives, but held up and were still crisp.
It was a bit of an odd offering for an Irish pub, but that was the only fault I could find in the vegetable spring rolls. These homemade beauties were crisp and packed with vibrant green vegetables – cabbage, onions and celery – as well as carrot slivers. They did get a little Irish touch from the pungent house-made Guinness mustard sauce on the side.
All of the Irish touches were done perfectly at the Rusty Dog Irish Pub. And the service was just what one would hope for from a small-town eatery – warm, welcoming and appreciative.
All things considered, my trips to Huntington were some of the most enjoyable I have had in recent memory. And, hopefully, my next won’t be too far off.
Restaurant: Rusty Dog Irish Pub
Address: 32 N. Jefferson St., Huntington
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to midnight Friday; 4:30 p.m. to midnight Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Vegetable spring rolls ($5.25), nachos ($6.95), soup ($3 cup; $5 bowl), NY strip ($20.95), shepherd’s pie ($13.95), Bluetick burger ($8.95)
Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).